We Teach

It was a day like any other. Except that it wasn’t. I had the radio on while I was getting ready for work. Just like I always did. What I heard that morning compelled me to turn on the television. Something I never did.
American planes, carrying American passengers, over American cities were turned into bombs by foreign agents. I saw the footage. I heard the soundbites. I couldn’t comprehend.
I walked to my office just like I did every morning. My assistant had her desk in the reception area. She liked being in the center of action; I obliged by letting her sit right at the entrance to the office. On this day, she found a small TV and set it up on the reception counter. I said nothing. She needed other co-workers to gather near her. I couldn’t handle one more sound bite. Not one more image.
I went to directly to my office. I had no words. After a while, I went down one floor to visit with some of my employees. Personnel staff, accountants and finance analysts, IT workers, payroll processors… they pulled their chairs from offices and cubicles and we sat in a circle. They talked and I listened. When it seemed they were ready, each went back to their desk to attempt whatever work they might get done that day.
I went back upstairs to my office. I called other employees who were stationed in satellite offices around the city. Small offices staffed with one or two employees. Most of them were alone. I listened to whomever wanted to come to the phone that morning. I heard fear and confusion mixed with relief and appreciation. They were glad I called. I was glad I listened.
After a short while, I went up the street to City Hall. There, a small cadre of customer service reps were pretending to work the citywide service desk. Usually, the service counter was busy with citizens who needed a problem solved or a complaint heard. Not today. Usually, the phones were a constant jangle of ringing bells as people called to find out where or how they could be heard, and by whom. Not today. If someone walked in demanding to see the Mayor, it was my staff they talked with first. Not today. All was quiet. All was still. No one came. No one called. We gathered our chairs around and they talked. I listened. I still had no words.
Finally, the very long work day ended. For once, I didn’t stay late. On my walk home, I stopped to buy a newspaper, just like I always did. The man who sold me my evening newspaper wore clothes that might have come to him third hand. He had very bad teeth and very kind eyes. He did honest work by selling the daily newspaper. He bought them in the morning at a slight discount and re-sold them in the afternoon at the newsstand price.
For some reason, I was ready to talk. To a stranger. I looked into his deep brown eyes and I spoke my thoughts out loud, “I don’t know what to do.” I told him. He looked back at me, and very steadily he replied, “We teach. We teach.”
I don’t know if he meant we teach third graders to be inclusive. Or, maybe he meant we should re-introduce the humanities into our high school and college curriculum. Perhaps he meant we should run yet another diversity training program. It didn’t matter because in that minute, based on two words uttered twice, I know I became a better person. My way of teaching would simply become the way I would show up from that day forward.
Teaching does not have to be defined as one person, one expert, standing in the center of the room. Teaching can be demonstrated by the way we behave. What we model. Who we are and what we value. Or share. Or say. Or do.
On that day, in that moment, I became a better listener, a more thoughtful influencer. Kinder. More patient. More tolerant. Thanks to a man who took time to hear me. A man who let me struggle to speak. And answered me when I did. My street corner philosopher.
Since that September day in 2001, the way I show up is the way I teach. Because what we say and what we do is what we teach. How we say it. How we do it. That is what and how we teach.
I ask you to please notice the way you show up. In your neighborhood. In your workplace. With your kids or grandkids. At your bowling league or at the grocery store. At home or away from home. What are you teaching?
Let the way you show up. Let who you are. Be what you teach. Because, every day in every way, you and I – we teach. We teach.

Linger Love Listen

A friend’s mom is moving toward her next journey of the soul, and I find myself watching her process and her progress.  It occurs to me that in the busy-ness of our days, we often don’t take time to luxuriate in the living.  Yet, when death is on the horizon, I find myself wanting to linger, to love, to listen…  longer than usual.

I don’t know my friend’s mom.  And yet, no matter how busy I am from day to day to day, I watch for his updates about her journey.  I find myself feeling as though I am the one on guard.  I take time to notice her dying.  I don’t take that time with the living.

And somehow, I want to do this.  I want to linger in her lingering.  I seek to find a deeper sweetness in his sadness.  I find myself listening longer, with more patience and more clarity.  She, a stranger, gives me this awareness and understanding of life and death and life.

I wonder why that is. Why we don’t take time to slow down in the living process, but we do take time and we do slow down in the dying process.  Even when it is someone else’s process. 

Perhaps this is her legacy – even to me, a stranger.  A lesson to remind me to linger, to love, to listen… while I am living. 

The Story of Pal and Julia

My work in elder advocacy requires a business head and a social worker’s heart.  This is the story of my first client and his sweetheart Julia.

Each time I enter his apartment, I catch a whiff of old man and old shoes.  He has kept every train ticket, bank statement and restaurant receipt since his early working days.  He doesn’t like to waste the back of an envelope so he keeps those, too.  He might run out of scratch paper.   Don’t you know?

He can be rather persnickety this retired mechanical engineer.  Back in the old days when everything was done by hand, in ink, immediate perfection was required. Today, he demands the same of me. I must only open envelopes with his father’s special knife.  A perfect slice.  All papers must be lined up, but he doesn’t let me staple them.  Holes you know.

He is a math whiz, a keen thinker, loves research, and at age 91, certain he is going to live forever.

His apartment is filled with cans and bottles gathered from everyone else who lives in his retirement building.  Sometimes he lets me take the bottles to my own recycle bin.  But the cans remain.  He can get money for those, you know.

He hired me because he thinks I am a professional organizer and he wants his things put in order.  We are in year six with the organizing all ready.  He keeps changing the system; I keep obliging.  As long as we don’t finish, he won’t die.

We have crossed several bridges together.  After living in his retirement community for a few years, he decided to sell his house across town.  We interviewed agents.  Lots of them.  Eventually he signed a contract.  With someone I had not met before. That was his right.  Later, he had me write the letter of complaint about her lack of professional conduct.

I go to the doctor with him these days.  We are now on doctor number four.  Doctors are stupid and his ailments are not age related and he will decide what medications to take!  Don’t I know his current doctor is a horse’s ass?  But, he goes anyway.

We go shoe shopping, clothes shopping, gadget shopping. He loves on line shopping but needs my help.  He gets mad at the computer screen for being too bright.  It hurts his nearly blind eyes.  Microsoft should fix that, don’t you know?

He needs help at home, and has fired every caregiver I helped him hire.  They stole things like his battery tester and the old picture frame he meant to use for the photograph of his sweetheart. He has piles of cash laying around his apartment.  But the caregivers took his underwear.

He introduced me to his sweetheart.  An older woman who lives on another floor.  She calls him Pal.  He calls her Julia.  He delivers coffee and a roll to her every morning.  Schedules her hair appointments.  Helps her remember what day it is.  He says he can’t take care of himself because he is too busy taking care of her.

One of her daughters doesn’t like him.  She even barked at me saying he is not to get involved with her mother.  I told her she should know they are old enough to make their own decisions.

He found her on the floor one day.  Crushed between bed and wall.  It pained him to call for help.  Julia went to the hospital.  He wasn’t allowed to visit.  He isn’t family, you know.

She moved to a rehab facility right across the street.   He walks over to see her every day.

He fusses, directs the nurses and staff, worries about her. Has dinner with her every evening.  He encourages her to go to the dining room and stays to eat in her room when she doesn’t feel up to it.

Hers is a room like any other. Metal bed.  Formica table on casters.  The pretense of a guest chair so uncomfortable it makes your eyes hurt, never mind your back.  The overhead light is broken.   Her unmade bed is littered with used tissues.  Olympia’s newest health and rehab center.  Beautiful public hallways.  Crappy private rooms.  You know…

They are sitting side by side when I arrive.  Holding hands.  Julia is fighting to keep her eyes open.  Her Pal is crying.  I reach out and take his other hand.  Soon enough, we’ll cross another bridge together.  He who believes he will live forever knows that she whom he loves is dying.  Don’t I know.


The Gift

A young boy in Africa gave his teacher a Christmas gift. It was a beautiful seashell. “Where did you get this?” she asked. The child told her that such shells are found only on a certain faraway beach. The teacher was deeply touched, because she knew that the boy had walked many miles to find the shell. “You shouldn’t have traveled so far just to find a gift for me,” she said. The boy smiled and replied, “The long walk is part of the gift.”    Credit Unknown


“The long walk is part of the gift” is a lesson I was taught by my parents.  Effort.  Energy.  Intention.  Integrity.

Hillary Clinton, was taught the dignity of hard work by her parents.  Hard work and public service became her long walk. Hillary came of age in a time of great social unrest and chose the long walk.  She started her long walk by engaging in civil rights, women’s rights, human rights.  She still reminds us to pay attention to those causes.

Public service is a gift.  It is not for heroes.  It is not for recognition.  It is not for applause.  It is not for money.  Public service is for the common good.  For the heart.  For the soul.  For the conscience.  For justice.  For joy.

If you cannot serve with joy, then this is not your gift to receive. This is not your long walk.  Do not even try.

Hillary Clinton founded, established, initiated, strengthened numerous social causes for the greater good. In the name of the people.  In the name of democracy.  In the name of the United States of America.  Year after year after year.

Hillary Clinton has proven her success both locally and globally.  Most of us hardly know all she has done as a public servant, while she was also a working mom and supportive wife. Hillary does not ask to be recognized for her years of public service. She does ask for the honor and the dignity of being able to continue her long walk.

The long walk is Hillary’s gift to us.  We should receive it in gratitude.






My Grandmother’s Living Room

It has been hot in Seattle this summer. Unusually hot. I have a lot of windows in my home and plantation blinds. It was hot where my grandmother lived. Very hot. She had lots of windows in her home and Venetian blinds. Grand Mommy would pull the Venetian blinds down against the fierce San Fernando Valley sun. Her living room would become dark and calm and peaceful. Now I pull the plantation blinds down against the sun bearing down on my own living room. The room becomes dark and calm and peaceful. I think about my grandmother’s living room on a hot summer day.

We would lie on the floor in front of a blowing fan.  Four cousins, best of friends.  Sometimes Grand Daddy would bring home a bag of ice and put it between us and the fan.  With the ice melting in a brown paper bag, I would lie very still on my grandmother’s brown rug, surrounded by my cousins. Cooled air would blow across our flushed faces and small sweaty bodies.  I felt safe and loved and comforted.  On those days, and in those moments, the heat became my friend.

What For?

I have grown weary of listening to people talk about what they are against.  That goes for all of us, not just the politicians.  It is time to talk about what we are for.

I am for inclusion.  I am for a living wage. I am for dignity.  I am for kindness.  I am for respect.  I am for being a good listener – the other half of respectful communication.  I am for sharing.  I am for being a good neighbor.  I am for gun control measures and for your right to own a gun if you want one.  I am for the UN.  I am for the right to choose.  I am for equal pay for all people. I am for equal rights for all people.  I am for the Affordable Care Act.  I am for campaign finance reform.  I am for bankruptcy reform.  I am for a federal minimum wage.  I am for negotiation and dialogue.  I am for peace.  I am for accepting that climate change is real and for mitigation of the effects of climate change.  I am for clean energy.  I am for comprehensive immigration reform legislation with a path to full and equal citizenship.  I am for using the bathroom relating to your gender identity.

I am for Hillary Clinton because I am for Hillary Clinton, not because I am against someone else. This is not new.  I have been for Hillary Clinton since 1993 whether she was wife, mother, First Lady, Senator, Secretary, candidate, presumptive nominee.  I am for Hillary because she is for what I am for.

I ask all of you to examine what you are for. Be for someone and something.  And know what that is.  Know your facts.  Know your figures.  Know your truth.  Know what you are for.  Be for that.

Let’s stop shouting about what we are against.  Being against isn’t working for us.


There is a word – resonance… the quality in a sound of being deep, full and reverberating.

There is another word – rapport…  harmonious mutual understanding.

Harmonious.  Mutual.  Reverberating. Deep. Full.

I have a college friend with whom I still cross paths.  We went from being college friends, to Christmas card connectors, to email pals, to Facebook “friends”.  We saw each other recently over a long week-end at a weddings for another college friend – forty years after our graduation.   It was like we never parted.  It is always like that.

People asked me “How do you and Elliott know each other…  what is your story?”  Are you…  together?  Are you…  related?  Are you …  “exes”?  You seem so…  compatible, connected, comfortable.

I fumbled for the answer.  I searched for the words.  I tried to express the sentiment.  Today, I decided to write it down.

I have known Elliott before.  Our souls have crossed paths in other lifetimes, on other planes.  Perhaps we have been parent and child, teacher and student, cat and mouse….  Perhaps we have been neighbors or comrades.  If you insist, then perhaps we have been lovers.  In this lifetime, on this planet, we are simply spiritual beings having a human experience while holding the other in constant regard.  We have rapport. We resonate.  However distant or far apart.

I hold for Elliott an abiding love. This love expresses as deep and mutual understanding.  It does not come with assumption or expectation.  It does not require examination or explanation.

Oftentimes, a single word or a short phrase is enough between the two of us… little more is necessary to create understanding.  In a crowded room, while others are turning cartwheels across the floor, all I need to do is look over at Elliott who will give me a nod.  That look and that nod can represent a complete conversation between us.  It is enough.  No cartwheels for us.

My only regret is that my conscious mind can’t remember all the fun we must have had in those other lifetimes.  And, if or when we meet again, I likely won’t remember all the fun we’ve had in this lifetime. But my rapport with Elliott is imprinted on my soul and in my sub-conscious.  That I know for certain.

I suppose people will continue to notice that we are… compatible, connected, comfortable.  Well, yes… that’s because we reverberate along the same wavelength.  We are a living expression of a natural resonance in its most literal sense.

It’s really that simple – a resonance.  No explanations required.  No assumptions allowed.


Addendum:   Since writing this missive, it has occurred to me that, with this lifetime, Elliott and I may be resolved.  Our karma may have exhausted itself…  sated and whole.  There is love but there is no need.  I wonder if we are now complete or if there is even such a thing for time-traveling souls.  And, if not, only joy can come from our continued resonance.


I went to the almost annual Blintzapalooza at our local synagogue. Blintzapalooza is a feast of blintzes, bagels and used books sold to raise funds in support of local nonprofit agencies.  I went for books and bagels; my friend Michelle went for books and blintzes.  There was also a cheesecake baking contest to which I paid scant attention.  I don’t like to cook, and I don’t even like cheesecake.

I am a disinterested cook and my mother was a plain cook who never really enjoyed that obligatory chore imposed on moms of a certain era.  It is ironic that she collected cookbooks while traveling all over the United States. I inherited way too many of them when she passed away. 

While at Blintzapalooza, I stepped into the room with books on the subjects of arts, crafts, gardening, decorating and cooking when I suddenly remembered I had donated several boxes of cookbooks to this year’s event. I also recalled that I was relieved to pass the unused books along.  I wondered whether I would see my mother’s cookbooks among those in that room at the Temple.

I noticed a woman with an armful of cookbooks bound in plastic spiral clips.  Sure enough, those were some of my mother’s many books.  I asked if I could tell her the story of the cookbooks – collected at small town bazaars, yard sales, rummage sales, school fund raisers, and more.  I told her how my parents would return home from many cross-country trips, their RV laden with regional cookbooks according to the local culture, custom and cuisine of the various places they had visited. My mother took great joy in reading her collection, even if she never prepared any of the recipes. The woman told me her son collected just those sorts of spiral-bound vintage cookbooks from small towns and “ladies’ auxiliaries”, and that he would be delighted to know their history.

While we were talking, some scraps of paper fell out from among the books. Pages written in my grandmother’s very distinct hand.  Oh no.  Had I been too hasty?  In my rush to purge the books, did I let go of something I would have meant to keep?  Of course I did not dare ask to have the papers back.  But, I did take a minute to look them over.  Menus, notes, scraps of kitchen memories written by my grandmother and tucked into my mother’s cookbook collection.  A testimony of love by my mom for her mom.

In my grandmother’s kitchen, all we ever knew was love. I gave the pages full of love back to the woman, taking solace that a mother was giving them to her son.  And trusting that a son would appreciate such a gift from his mother.  I wondered if I would have regrets.

In my own kitchen, there is a strong presence of my grandmother. Her spirit shows up most clearly when I am standing at the kitchen sink, looking out the window.  She was there at the sink when I got home from Blintzapalooza.  And now I know those little pages of notes, written in my grandmother’s hand and falling out of my mother’s cookbooks, were like little recipes for life. A recipe for sharing and the grace of passing things along for others to enjoy.   A recipe for knowing not to keep every scrap of stuff lest the stuff become more important than the meaning.  A recipe for accepting that when we can hold a memory we do not need to hold the thing.  A recipe for believing that it is okay for someone else to take care of the thing, and that our memories will also be taken care of. 

And because I got to tell the story of my mother’s cookbooks, I know my memories of her cookbook collection will be taken care of, as well.  My grandmother made sure of that when her little kitchen love notes fell out of my mother’s cookbooks in that room at the synagogue.  No regrets.

Good cooks often have a story about their own grandmother’s influence on their cooking skills.  I just never cared to develop those skills, and neither did my mother.  However, my grandmother did cook delicious Southern food and I do, once in a while, make her mother’s recipe for cornbread dressing.  So did my mother. That’s the one recipe I know I kept.  Because our cornbread dressing is pure love.  And the memory of at least four generations of women sharing one recipe is all we need to keep.


Beginnings and Endings and Beginnings

So, this is my first post of my first blog.  Being rather challenged by anything remotely associated with technology, I’ve already spent hours trying to figure out how to create this site – you know… theme, background, design….  Today, I give up.  I’m just going to write and forget about the “look”.

I am inspired by two women much younger than me.  Both are writers.  Both are smart. One is a sometimes actress.  The other is a sometimes dancer. You know, talented women with something to say.  I want to be them.  I want to have something to say.  Well, what I mean is, I want to say it as well as they do.

So, that’s the thing.  I couldn’t start because I might not say it very  well. I couldn’t start because I might not be satisfied with the look of the page.  I couldn’t start because I can’t figure out how to copy the image I want to attach.  I might not do it right.  So I put off getting it done.

Today, I re-read a post by one of those inspiring women…  She wrote about procrastination and reminded herself to start small and to just do one thing at a time.  Just do what is before us, she said, and let the future take care of itself. Okay.  That’s what I will do.  One thing.  Today.  I will start.

Why today?  Well, endings make me think of beginnings.  And, there was an ending yesterday.  Death came to visit.  Actually, death came to visit twice this month.  A cousin.  A client.  One violent.  One peaceful.  Both by design.

Some people prefer other words to “death”. Words that are not so stark.  Words like transition…  ascendancy…  beginning….  ending… journey…  Nevertheless, however we say it… death is a marking point.

So, at this marking point… I choose to start.  It’s a beginning.

My friends call me Mel.  You can too.